The Accidental Tourist
By Bill Bryson
About the Author
William McGuire Bryson is an American-British author. He was born on 8 December 1951 in Des Moines, Iowa, United States but he has been a resident of Britain for most of his adult life. He holds dual American and British citizenship. He served as the chancellor of Durham University, Durham, England from 2005 to 2011.
Bryson first visited Britain in 1973 during his tour of Europe and decided to stay after getting a job in a psychiatric hospital in Virginia Water, Surrey. He met a nurse there named Cynthia Billen, whom he married in 1975. They moved to Bryson’s hometown of Des Moines, Iowa in 1975 so that Bryson could complete his college degree at Drake University. In 1977 they settled in Britain.
He worked as a journalist for ‘The Times’ and ‘The Independent’. He left journalism in 1987 and started writing independently. He currently lives in rural Hampshire and maintains a small flat in South Kensington, London.
Image & text reference: en.wikipedia.org
This narrative describes the author’s experiences during air flights. He recalls all those experiences and we come to know how he fails to enjoy his air travels. Being a frequent traveller, he is also not able to get any air card due to his carelessness.
This story gives the message that one should be well-planned and organised while travelling. In the absence of preparations before setting off, the traveller is bound to encounter accidents.
Bill Bryson was a frequent air traveller. He finds himself always uneasy during his air travels. In this lesson, the author describes some of his experiences during these travels. He says that once he was going to England with his family. He had a carry-on bag with him.
The trouble started at the airport when the checking staff asked him to open the bag. He tried hard to open the zip of the bag but it would not open. He pulled it harder and it broke. All the things in the bag were discharged like a fluttery cascade. The newspaper cuttings, other documents, the tin of pipe tobacco, magazines, passport and coins all spread over an area about the size of a tennis court.
Then he describes his another experience. He says that once on an aeroplane, he leaned over to tie a shoelace. Just at the moment someone in the seat ahead of him threw his seat back into full recline and found himself pinned helplessly in the crash position. It was only by clawing the leg of the man sitting next to him that he managed to get himself freed.
On another occasion, he had knocked off a soft drink onto the lap of a sweet little lady sitting beside him. This lady was a nun and Bryson spilt even the replaced drink brought by the flight attendant. However, his worst experience was when he was writing something in a notebook, he fell into conversation with an attractive young lady in the next seat. He was sucking his pen on one of the ends. After about 20 minutes, when he went to lavatory he discovered that the pen had leaked and that his mouth, chin, tongue, teeth and gums were now navy blue and would remain so for several days.
Despite being a frequent flyer he never got any air card. He could never take benefits from the discount schemes. He says that he used to fly 100,000 miles a year but due to his carelessness or some other reasons he could get no air card. Whenever he tries to gain this benefit, he either misplaces his card or forgets to ask at the time of check-in. Even the airlines cannot grant him free flying miles as his name on the card and his ticket do not match. This was the reason once he missed a golden opportunity to avail himself of a first-class flight to Bali.
Q. Bill Bryson says, “I am, in short, easily confused.” What examples has he given to justify this?
Ans. Bill Bryson claimed that he was easily confused. Many times he went looking for the lavatory in a cinema and ended up standing in an alley on the wrong side of a self-locking door. He said that his specialty was returning to hotel desks two or three times a day and asking what his room number was. That is why he said that he was easily confused.
Q. What happens when the zip on his carry-on bag gives way?
Ans. His fingers get hurt by the zip. He is bleeding profusely. All belongings in his bag are flying across the floor of the waiting hall of the airport. He seems to be making a mockery of himself and of civilized way of behaving at a particular place.
Q. Why is his finger bleeding? What is his wife’s reaction?
Ans. His finger is hurt by getting stuck in the zip of his bag. His wife is astonished by the way he has created a mess all around himself.
Q. How does Bill Bryson end up in a “crash position” in the aircraft?
Ans. Once on board a flight, Bryson leaned over to tie his shoelaces. At the same moment, someone in the seat in front of him threw his seat back into full recline and Bryson was pinned helplessly in the crash position.
Q. Why are his teeth and gums navy blue?
Ans. On one occasion while on a plane, Bryson was writing some notes in his notebook and kept sucking on the end of his pen. The pen had leaked and his gums, teeth, tongue and chin were all coloured with navy blue ink.
Q. Bill Bryson “ached to be suave”. Is he successful in his mission? List his ‘unsuave’ ways.
Ans. No, he is not successful in his mission. He would love just once in his life to rise from a dinner table without looking as if he had experienced an extremely localised seismic event, get in a car and close the door without leaving 14 inches of coat outside, wear light-coloured trousers without discovering at the end of the day that he had at various times sat on chewing gum, ice cream, cough syrup and motor oil.
Q. Why do you think Bill Bryson’s wife says to the children, “Take the lids off the food for Daddy”?
Ans. Bill Bryson’s wife asked the children to take the lids off the food for Bill because if Bill had tried to do that himself, then he might have taken it off in such a manner that the lid would be flying away to some part of the plane and the food might spill all over the place.
Q. What is the significance of the title?
Ans. The title is significant because it is about a man who travels a lot and is always confused. He gets into trouble because of his acts which are not deliberate. The story depicts humorous travel experiences – like being pinned in a crashed position, spilling drink on a co-passenger, his gums and teeth covered in ink, etc. – when the author accidently gets into trouble. Thus, the title is apt for this story.
Long Answer Type Questions
Q. How would you describe Bill Bryson as an accidental tourist? Give two instances from the test.
Ans. Bill Bryson was such a tourist who remained almost all the year round on an aeroplane. Many accidents take place with him. So he is called an accidental tourist. The two incidents from the text are mentioned below.
(i) When the zip on his carry-on bag gives way all thing fall out of a bag. The newspaper cuttings and other documents rain down in a fluttery cascade. The coins bounce here and there. The lidless tin of tobacco rolls crazily disgorging its contents. These things spread over an area about the size of a tennis court.
(ii) During one of his air flights, the author spilt the soft drink on to the lap of a sweet lady sitting beside him. The flight attendant came and cleaned her up. The attendant brought him a replacement drink and he knocked it into the woman again. The lady looked at him with the stupefied expression.
Q. ‘Confusing and ill-behaved persons become a laughing stock. Discuss the statement with reference to the story The Accidental Tourist’.
Ans. One must be well-behaved, well-mannered and full of confidence to maintain one’s image in gathering. A confusing person due to lack of confidence becomes a laughing stock in many situations. As in the story, the author Bill Bryson is always desirous to project himself as a well behaved, well-mannered person, a person full of confidence but in doing so, all the time, he commits funny mistakes. He is a frequent flyer but forgets to use frequent flyer card issued by airways. He forgets to tie shoelaces, he scatters his soft drink on co-passenger. He puts the end of his pen into his mouth and begins sucking and gets his mouth, tongue, teeth and gums strained in navy blue colour. The author is very intelligent. He is a man of letters. He is a well-known and renowned writer but his tendency of forgetfulness and lack of confidence bring him in the situation of embarrassment.
Q. “I always have catastrophes when I travel.” Mention two incidents to show why Bill Bryson feels so.
Ans. The author had faced many bad experiences while travelling. Once he tried to write something in a notebook. He was sucking on the end of his pen. He got involved in talking with a lady for about 20 minutes and could not notice the leakage in the pen. When he visited lavatory, he found his mouth, chin, tongue, teeth and gums navy blue. Another incident when Bryson got into the trouble because of his absent-mindedness. At Logan Airport, he was trying to open the jammed zip of the bag to take out his card. But the zip gave way and all his things scattered on the floor. He became very much confused and wanted to mend his habits.
Q. Bill Bryson in ‘The Accidental Tourist’ feels he should become suave. Give some measures by which he can become suave and smart.
Ans. Bill Bryson was an accidental tourist. He tried to do all things properly. But he could not do so and got easily confused. Whenever he travelled by air he did one or the other mischief. His memory was not sharp. He forgot soon and returned to the hotel desk frequently just to ask his room number. He tried to take precautions while taking meal but it also proved to be a mistake. He could not avoid making mistakes. He stopped eating or drinking on a plane. He tried to mend his habits. He wanted to be civilised and polite but it did not happen. He was not capable of getting the benefits offered by different airlines. He had to face embarrassment many times. He could not find lavatory easily.